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BitSummit17 Exposes a Flourishing Japanese Indie Game Scene

June 2, 2017 2:30pm
by Mike Tamburelli

Recently, the world has been absolutely awash in amazing video games from Japanese developers across a magnitude of different genres. The windfall of fantastic games, seemingly starting with late 2016’s Final Fantasy XV and spanning titles like Nier: Automata, Nioh, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Persona 5 have been keeping our thumbs twitching. As a result, I’ve been hearing it all to often: “Japan is back. Japanese developers have found their magic touch once more.”

I don't really buy into the sentiment, which honestly seems to assume a bit too much.

In my eyes, the world of Japanese video games never actually lost its lustre; to the rest of the world, it simply fell out of focus as other trends and business decisions emerged from western markets and publishers. Remaining hyper-focused on the content we loved, myself and many other gamers found plenty to love from those same studios and talent who gave us some of our most fantastical experiences along the way. There was even room for new and unconventional games from young and budding talent.

Imagine my sheer excitement then, if you will, when I discovered BitSummit - an annual showcase of some of the best games not only from Japan's own underground scene, but also from creative minds the world over who hope to spread their own concepts of fun across international barriers. From university students building their very first virtual reality games to industry veterans who have decided to chart their own paths with new production studios, BitSummit is a microcosm that allows the freshest ideas from one of our favorite hobbies to flourish and grow.

This year's event, officially known as "A 5th of BitSummit," was held in Kyoto, Japan, at the Miyako Messe exhibition hall on Saturday, May 20 and Sunday, May 21. Organized by a host of big industry players alongside some individuals passionate about indie gaming, BitSummit is proud to be one of the largest independent games events in Japan, with 6435 attendees in 2016 alone. Throughout this years event, I was fortunate enough to get hands-on time with 10 games in total. Bridging various genres and niched ideas, we're going to take a look at just what defined my BitSummit weekend:

People Panic

People Panic was a game that would be extremely hard to miss as you entered the exhibit hall. As opposed to the gentle glow of all the TV screens and computer monitors dotting the dimly-lit hall, this light appeared to be popping out of the floor. As I approached to take a closer look, I was handed a long fishing rod-type pole, and noticed what appeared to be a classic flying saucer UFO hanging off the end.

The goal of the game is to work with your teammates to abduct as many people, animals, and eventually objects as possible. Of course, as the image is not actually coming from the floor, an overhead projector works in tandem with the UFOs to determine where they are located on the playing field, thus allowing you to abduct anything below your own UFO. After 2 minutes or so of sucking up us much of the map as possible, everyone receives the total score, and a new round begins almost immediately.

Of course, being quite an unconventional installation for a video game, it will be interesting to see how developer Coconoe brings the game to a wider audience.

Official Site: 9ye.jp

Strange Telephone

Strange Telephone was, stylistically, one of my favorite games at the show. From the snap I captured above you can see main character Jill standing in front of this ominous looking door. As it would turn out, Jill is now trapped in this dark and mysterious world, and the only way to get out is to rely on her mysterious floating pal named Graham. Graham resembles a telephone, and Jill must use the hovering horn to dial up one a plethora of worlds via 6-digit numbers.

It's a beautiful point-and-click adventure in a pixel art style, complete with retro scanlines and all. As you navigate the worlds, there are also a number of items that you can pick up to help you along the way. These include a lantern which light up those darker worlds, and a hatchet letting you cut through obstacles. I chatted with game's developer, Yuta, about his concept:

Strange Telephone is a big game with 5 endings. In order to get them all, I encourage players to share their world numbers with friends to help them out. In this way, it is also a sort of social game, but you have to find a way to do this outside of the app.

Strange Telephone is available now on both Android and iOS devices, in both Japanese and English. Also on display at the booth was a PC version, which is planned for release later this year.

Official Site: magniflop.com

Samurai Inferno Castle

Now this one was just oozing with style and fresh ideas. The best way to describe Samurai Inferno Castle would have to be a blend between classic Japanese "yanki" biker gangs and Fire Emblem. On their turn, players are able to move their characters on gridded maps, and can chose from the standard options such as "Attack," "Item," and "Wait." The action is a fair bit more fast-paced than your typical SRPG, and taking down huge bosses requires you to be more inventive than approaching the enemy square and pressing "Attack."

In the demo, I found myself facing a gigantic demon with two oversized arms. It was only after you incapacitated the arms that its head would emerge from behind the castle roof. In order to have myself in an advantageous position to strike the head, I had to move about placing bombs to damage the arms. If the rest of the game has you thinking on your feet in a similar style, I sense a real winner on our hands. Oh, and did I also mention there's an insanely fun multiplayer mode?

Official Site: Kyoto x Unity

Rising Arch: Raika kawaseshi shiren no tou

Rising Arch is part-action, part-puzzle, and complete-fun. The game has two options when it comes to input; you can either take advantage of a touch screen monitor, or you can opt for a more traditional mouse and click scheme. It's clear which method the developers had in mind for the game however, as you are tasked with ascending a tower full of puzzles by hovering at precise points in midair, all while taking aim with your oversized magic bow to shoot down enemies. Tap once to warp, hold your finger to hover, and drag your finger back to aim and shoot your bow; easy. Just don't let go in the wrong spots, or else you may find yourself falling onto the spikes below.

Featuring a host of characters, gorgeous pixel graphics and screen-engulfing effects, Rising Arch is sure to please fans of great 2D romps. The developers were selling special BitSummit emblazoned cards with download codes for trial versions of the game, and they detailed that the full version of the game is due out by year's end. I would urge you to keep an eye on their site and Twitter page for more info.

Official Site: Banraku-Hatenkou

va-ll hall-a (PlayStation Vita Version)

va-ll hall-a, while perhaps not a new game for many, is receiving an official release in Japan complete with translation. So of course the indie darling should have a presence at Japan's biggest indie games show, right? Oh, and what's this? A PlayStation Vita release too? Sign me up! I played a good portion of their demo, and the game is just as sharply-written and witty in Japanese as it is English.

Haven't given it a try yet? If you are a fan of incredibly detailed pixel graphics, brilliant writing and a general cyberpunk aesthetic, this game will be right up your alley. Oh, and props to the team for blaring the game's OST throughout the exhibition hall over a killer retro boombox.

Official Site: Sukeban Games

Save Me Mr. Tako!

Did someone put a Game Boy on the big screen? You wouldn't be faulted for thinking so as you walked past this booth, as that's just the feeling that developer Christophe Galati wishes to evoke. Save Me Mr. Tako puts you in the tentacle-filled shoes of a little octopus soldier. Yes, these octopi are at war - with humans! The beginning of the demo had you attacking a human ship in the middle of a storm. One of the passengers of the ship falls into the sea, and through a cutscene your octopus jumps in after to save her. From here, the story unfolds as you guide the little rebel through some retro-inspired, hybrid platformer and RPG action.

One of the best parts of the whole experience? You can swap the game's color palette on the fly with the press of a button, just as if you were playing an original Game Boy game on a Game Boy Advance, but with just a few more options.

Save Me Mr. Tako will be available soon, with PC and WiiU releases planned.

Official IndieDB Page: Save Me Mr. Tako

Battle Sports Mekuru

Perhaps even more joyous than playing the game itself was the official Battle Sports Mekuru tournament that BitSummit held on the main stage. With a brand-new Nintendo Switch up for grabs, teams of event ticket holders duked it out against some pretty big-name industry veterans. Featuring a star-studded lineup including Castlevania's own Koji Igarashi, it was hard not to root for the gamers from the audience who were competing against them.

Battle Sports Mekuru is a Nintendo Switch-exclusive title developed by new Japanese studio Over Fence. The goal of the game is to run around a grid-like board, ground pounding the tiles to claim them as your own. With each pound, you flip a number of tiles in a cross-shaped pattern extending in all directions. Power-ups that you collect can have an effect on how many tiles you flip, and the pattern in which they flip as well. As you can imagine, this all makes for some pretty hectic action, and is the perfect game for a party-like setting.

Just as many of BitSummit's presentations and stage events were streamed over Twitch, so too was the tournament. Players young and old, industry vets and gaming newcomers alike made this game a blast to watch, and it was even more enjoyable to try it out myself. It's currently available on the Japanese Nintendo Switch eShop, and I'm sure a worldwide release isn't too far off.

Official Site: Battle Sports Mekuru

Momodora V (Working Title)

The game Momodora V may not see a final release under that same name, but what I played of it was a genuinely eye-catching example of stylized 3D action in it's purest form.

Originally introduced as a direct sequel to the first four titles in the series, it quickly branched off instilling a series-first 3D approach to a once pixelated series. As I guided my character through a serene castle environment, I was met with tight controls and physics perhaps similar to an entry into the Dark Souls series. If anything says successful leap into 3D gaming, my guess is that would be a pretty good indicator.

Since the game was revealed at the event, the developer has expressed intention in proceeding with this project separate from the Momodora series itself.

Official Website: Bombservice

God Breath You

As we've already seen with titles like People Panic, BitSummit, as well as indie games scene itself is definitely not afraid to venture outside the realm of the usual with their games. God Breath You is a prime example of a game that can be just as fun, if not even more so, without any traditional input device like a controller.

There are two aspects to the game: one player dons a VR helmet and finds themselves on a boat, while up to 4 other players squeeze little syringes attached to mini Roman-style busts in order to blow gusts of air at a small wooden model of aforementioned boat with a sensor attached to it. The player on the boat is essentially the captain, and must shout out directions such as "Left," Right," and Straight Ahead" in order to get the wind gods to steer the boat to safety. It was tons of fun, and I cannot wait to see what the team at 1->10drive bring to the table next.

Official Developer Site: 1->10drive

God of Money

As I walked past this booth, it was admittedly not the game or the VR helmet that attracted me. Rather, it was a person standing nearby. That person just happened to be acclaimed developer of cult hit Deadly Premonition and D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die Swery65, or Mr. Hidetaka Suehiro. Of course, I just had to approach him for a chat, and during the course of our conversation I became insanely curious about this game he appeared to be monitoring. As it would turn out, it wasn't exactly his game per se, but he did have a hand in it.

Thus, at the urging of Swery65, I was prompted to try out my very first (believe it or not) full VR game. God of Money is a project created by students at Osaka Electro-Communication University under Swery65's mentoring. He told me that VR was a prime space for young developers to bring their innovative ideas to fruition.

After the Occulus Rift helmet was carefully attached to my head, the developers handed me the Occulus controllers, and explained the rules of the game. I only needed to grip one button, and it was as simple as throwing anything I might choose to toss in the real world. As a benevolent God of Wealth, you simply need to toss wads of cash to the masses scrambling about your perch. The physics were spot on, and I walked away a believer in our VR future.

The next generation of creators are clearly in good hands.

Official Facebook Page: VR Media Research Project

Giga Wrecker

You would honestly believe that a new title by the acclaimed studio Game Freak, the very same developers behind the best-selling Pokémon games, would be headline news, right? Well apparently I've either been under a rock, or this just slipped under everyones radar, as I was completely unaware of their latest title Giga Wrecker prior to BitSummit, which has been available in Japan since February 6, 2017.

If there's anything I walked away knowing, it's that you need to head over to Steam pronto and pick up this gem, which just recently released with English-language support. Featuring a gorgeous art style reflective of the game's gritty nature, Giga Wrecker is described as a "debris action" game. The moniker totally fits, as it was a total blast to maneuver around the world, throwing junk around at will and bashing enemies with impromptu swords, spears and drills.

Official Site: Giga Wrecker

And so much more...

Even though I dedicated almost an entire weekend at BitSummit, playing far more games than I could have at larger events such as E3 or Tokyo Game Show, I earnestly feel like I barely even scratched the surface. While there were some familiar faces from larger events such as Nintendo and PlayStation, this was very much a show for the little guys. But the presence of those larger companies undeniably shows their dedication to the scene, and that's always a good thing.

Attached below is a series of photos from the showroom floor including the aforementioned booths from Nintendo and PlayStation:

If you are interested in BitSummit and any future events that may be held, be sure to keep an eye on their official website here.

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Animator Kojo Tanno is Crafting Mysterious and Dreamy Shorts

May 22, 2018 3:00pm
by Lizzy Zhang

Do you enjoy the kind of abstract, dialogue-less, post-or-near-apocalyptic, heavy impending-doom-vibe type of story that hits all of the right spots? Did you enjoy ‎Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, Minetarō Mochizuki’s Dragon Head, or all the mysterious hallways and special abilities in Kazuma Kondou’s Deadman Wonderland? Independent animator Kojo Tanno is creating brief clips that capture such aesthetic with a thick air of mystery, all from his home in Nagasaki.

I really don’t feel as if I can properly put his works into words that will do them justice, so check out this short video:
 


A Google search for Tanno will yields mostly ambiguous results, including long-since archived articles by sites such as Crunchyroll and Anime News Network covering his video “VIEW” from 2012. There are quite large gaps between his uploads, with his first Youtube upload, “SAYONARA, WATASHI...” being from well over 9 years ago to date. Since then, however, Kojo Tanno has uploaded a total of 14 videos to his YouTube channel, his most popular being “JOSHI ni tsuite (Regarding Girls) that holds its ground at nearly a million views:
 

With all that being said, however, it's his recent video “QUARANTINE” that has been making its rounds on Twitter as of late. Since its initial posting this past February, I've been digging deeper and deeper into his works, leading me to his recently launched Patreon. Contributors are granted the ability to see his filmmaking progress, ask questions, and buy exclusive merch that he makes available only to patrons. With his Patreon, Tanno aims to gain funds to produce his own film, something that longtime fans have probably been waiting for almost 10 years now. 

Kojo Tanno’s works often have non-conclusive endings that leave your mind to fill in the rest of the story. The symbolism in each video is left to the viewer to contemplate. He’s definitely a mysterious guy, and I’m personally really excited to see where he takes the rest of “QUARANTINE”. If you’d like to follow along as well, be sure to check out Kojo Tanno’s Twitter for updates and occasional livestreams. If you’d like to contribute a little bit every month to his filmmaking, you can find his official Patreon, here

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New ‘Hunter x Hunter’ Collaboration Earring Unveiled

May 22, 2018 2:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

Togashi Yoshihiro’s Hunter x Hunter isn’t the sort of series that gets a lot of merchandise, but that just means that it’s always a special time when some does come out - even when it hits a little too close to home.

Contains spoilers for Hunter x Hunter.

A new collaboration piercing was unveiled today, and it’s not what you’d expect, like a replica of Chrollo Lucifer’s earrings, or even Kurapika’s for that matter. Instead, the iconic and heartbreaking adult form of Gon Freecss - playfully called ‘Gon-san - which he transforms into after giving into his rage and trauma following the revelation that Kite cannot be brought back following despite Neferpitou’s healing powers, is now available to hang on your earlobes.

Coming in at around 3000 yen for the normal version and 10,000 yen for the ‘high-end model,’ the earring highlights Gon’s extremely long hair in this form - making the piercing very long, around 90mm in fact. Depending on how your ears are pierced and your personal preference, you can also choose between an earring and piercing design for the part that attaches to the earlobe. Wearing just one of the unique ear pieces looks great, as shown below, but you can also buy a pair of them. Pre-orders will be open until August 5 on Premium Bandai’s website.



Seeing such a heartbreaking and iconic part of the series turned into an accessory was surprising to hear at first, but after seeing images of the design, I must admit that it definitely makes for a rather unique accessory. That being said, this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen Gon’s adult form turned into apparel, as he also made an appearance on one of the Jump 50th Anniversary Uniqlo collaboration shirts. These shirts have quickly made themselves at home in my closet, so I suppose wearing an earring of Gon-san isn’t a step that much further removed - even if it is a little bit close to home.

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MONDO GROSSO Shares New Music Video for 'One Temperature'

May 22, 2018 1:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

Following up from the March 21, 2018, release of MONDO GROSSO's seventh studio album, "Attune / Detune," the legendary producer is back with their latest collaborative music video alongside Big-O, "One Temperature". Shared via the official avex YouTube channel earlier today, the music video utilizes a number of 90s filmography techniques to create the perfect throwback sound to accompany the song's hip-hop lyrical basis. Let's take a look at the music video below:
 


Released within the nine-track album "Attune / Detune" that released earlier this year, "One Temperature" takes MONDO GROSSO's signature sound to fresh places, something that rung especially true across the whole album. I couldn't picture the track with vocals from anyone else, either, as Big-O lets the lyrics flow in a manner only he can execute so well. There's little room for error on this track, as well as the rest of the album, and this one is definitely going to be bopping for days on end. 

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Puma x Sega Sonic & Dr. Eggman Sneakers to Release June 5

May 22, 2018 12:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

It was just a short period of time ago during the month of March that the world was first teased with initial images of SEGA and Puma's collaborative Sonic the Hedgehog sneakers. The initial pixelated imagery left a lot to the imagination, but it wasn't until earlier today that we finally got our first real look at the RS-0 Sonic and RS-0 Dr. Eggman sneakers, as well as their release date and price point. Set to hit the streets on June 5, 2018, at a total cost of $130 USD, the sneakers are a mostly subtle throwback to a couple of gamings most iconic characters. 
 


Initial impressions of the sneakers are scattered and mixed, with some in love with the inspired designs and colorways, while others are finding faults in the "high price point" and material choices. While I sit on the positive side of the fence when it comes to this one, I will admit I'm not exactly jumping at the initial images of the materials, though that could change when I actually get to see a pair of these sneakers in person. I can't picture everyone picking these up as everyday pieces, but I'm sure any fan of the series could incorporate them quite well.

Set to be made available worldwide from June 5 at a price point of $130 USD, you'll likely want to jump on these early before they sell out. Those interested in picking up a pair can make their way to the official website for further information.

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‘Steins;Gate 0’ Takes Over Akihabara With Collaboration Events

May 21, 2018 4:00pm
by Jacob Parker-Dalton

Akihabara is featured in many anime, but I think it’s safe to say that none of them have been as effective at advertising the otaku hub as the science-fiction adventure series Steins;Gate.

The way that Okabe, Mayuri, Daru et al. are situated so well in the locale has gone a long way in making the area an integral part of the series. This, along with the excellent storytelling and character writing, has been an excellent advertisement for the otaku hub since the original game’s release to critical praise in 2009. For me as well, experiencing the same locale as the characters of Steins;Gate and being able to feel the spirit of the series in the area is a key part of why I love it so much.

That being said, with the new Steins;Gate 0 anime beginning it’s broadcast this season, it seems only fitting that the whole city mobilizes to advertise it. And so it has - not just with billboards on the Sofmap and Sega buildings, but with a multitude of collaboration events and goods also.

Running until May 31, the first major collaboration is with the AR app “Butai Meguri,” which will be using Akihabara as it’s playing field for a new Steins;Gate themed adventure titled “OPERATION;HEPHAISTOS.” This is actually the second time the app has crossed over with the series, previously running an event in Saitama. By using the app and visiting iconic Akihabara locations such as Chuo-Dori and Animate, players will receive a free badge set featuring Kurisu and Maho. There are only eight locations to visit, and anyone familiar with the area will probably be able to do it in no time, so it definitely seems worth giving a go.

During the time of this event, there are also plenty of food-related events scheduled. Firstly, Cafe Mailish is holding a special event to in honor of the “Supa Hacka” himself, Daru. It will feature a special themed menu as well as a gallery for the loveable otaku himself. An odd choice perhaps, but not when you realize that Daru’s birthday was actually on May 19 - so I’d like to think that we’re throwing the often unappreciated Daru a birthday party.

Kanazawa-style curry chain GOGO Curry will also be serving up a special collaboration curry and clear file in their Chuo-Dori store. The curry utilizes fried chicken - an ode to Mayuri’s own love for “Juicy Karaage Number One” - which is in turn drizzled with a yellow sauce, named “Gelsauce” after the “gelbananas” of the first series. I was able to sample the dish, and as usual, the curry was excellent, but what made it even better was the clear file that came with it. The humorous design features Okabe holding some GOGO curry and Kurisu with one of their signature forks. This collaboration curry will set you back 1200 yen, a little expensive but definitely worth it.

Even if you’re just walking around Akihabara, not aiming to participate in any of the above events, it seems almost impossible to escape the series at the minute - many of the vending machines have been adorned with Steins;Gate characters, Dr. Pepper is doing a crossover with the series, and even without any explicit reference to the series, it seems as though Steins;Gate has once more entered into the soul of Akihabara. As it should be.

For more details on collaboration events, check out the official website

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Resident Evil 7: Biohazard is Coming to Nintendo Switch... Via Streaming

May 21, 2018 3:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

In a weird turn of events, Capcom announced earlier today that they're bringing Resident Evil 7: Biohazard to Nintendo Switch in Japan on May 24, 2018, but only a version of the game that has to be streamed via their cloud servers. If that wasn't odd enough, beyond the fact that you're streaming the game, at no point will you actually "own" the title, with Capcom requiring players buy 180 day passes at the price of 2,000 yen every half-a-year. 
 


Those interested in playing the game will be able to simply go to the JP Nintendo eShop and download the 45mb Resident Evil cloud application, beginning the initial 15-minute trial before deciding if they want to purchase the full game pass. Included in the cloud version of the game, players will have access to all available DLC including Banned Footage Vol. 1 & 2, End of Zoe, and Not A Hero. Players are recommended to either have a 5ghz router or be using ethernet to enjoy a stable experience, though internet speeds will definitely be a major factor.

While it isn't particularly a standard in the West, nor in most of the world just yet, cloud streamed games have unfortunately been gaining more and more traction over here in Japan. Just recently we saw the launch of Phantasy Star Online 2 for the Nintendo Switch running on a similar cloud streaming platform. In my personal experience with that title, in particular, the game was riddled with lag and delays which effectively rendered it unplayable for the better part. We'll definitely have to see how Resident Evil 7 performs, especially if it is following that same path. 

While there's currently no official word of a Western release of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard on Nintendo Switch in the West, and we quite strongly doubt there ever will be in this format, we'll be sure to keep you up to date if any information does arise. Until then, we'll be giving the Japanese eShop version a try. Those interested in checking out further information can find it via the official website.

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FLCL Progressive Receives New Trailer Ahead of June Premiere

May 21, 2018 2:00pm
by Lachlan Johnston

The countdown has begun and we're officially less than two weeks away from the June 2 premiere of Toonami's FLCL Progressive. In preparation for the story that's about to unfold before our very eyes, Adult Swim has begun streaming the first English dubbed trailer for the series. The first entry into two brand new FLCL stories, FLCL Progressive follows 14-year-old schoolgirl Hidomi as her life takes a turn for the weird as we're taken through the wild ride that is adolescence. Let's take a look at the new trailer below:
 


Set to premiere on Adult Swim's Toonami block on June 2nd, 12:00 am (Eastern Time), FLCL Progressive will consist of a total of six episodes. Viewers in Japan will have it a little differently, however, with the show set to release as a single film that will actually come out after the other story, FLCL Alternative. Reasoning and structure behind this are currently unknown, but that could make for an interesting twist amongst international discussion. Toonami describes the series below:

FLCL Progressive tells the story of 14-year-old Hidomi, her classmate Ide, and two otherworldly beings, "Jinyu" and "Haruha Raharu," who are determined to unlock their hidden potential. Mixed up in this is an all-powerful force known as "ATOMSK," a gorgeous vintage car... and a certain Vespa Scooter.

For many international anime fans, the original FLCL acted as a cornerstone in their developmental years alongside the anime medium. Now over 18-years since the original series aired on television, we're given the opportunity to expose an entirely new audience to such an important series in fresh and exciting ways. With less than two weeks to wait until the series finally premieres, we'll be sure to keep you updated as further information is revealed. Until then, be sure to check out the official website.

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